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What to do if your Airbnb is terrible?

Maybe you spent hours researching the best neighborhoods to stay in, combing through Airbnb ads, reading every review, scrutinizing all of the pictures, filling out massive spreadsheets to compare price, location, amenities, and balancing it all to pick the perfect place for your stay. And even after all that, you might arrive, to discover your Airbnb is terrible. You got catfished. That’s happened to your Guide a couple of times. Below are some tips on how to get out of your Airbnb if it sucks.

If there's a problem with your Airbnb, contact Airbnb immediately

Do it. Even if the problem is something that can get fixed. The reason for this is that you have 24 hours from check-in to identify that the reservation is not what you expected. (Airbnb: Cancelling during your stay) Even if the reservation has a no-refund cancellation policy, if you arrive at an Airbnb and it’s not as advertised, Airbnb will get you out of there and you can get a refund.

Go to this help page about Airbnb’s Resolution Center and, when you’re logged in to your account, you’ll see your current reservation listed on the side of the page with links to get help or make requests. 

I learned about this policy the hard way. I was having a great time exploring Bogota, so I extended my time there and showed up a day later than expected in Medellin. But I didn’t adjust my Airbnb reservation, so by the time I arrived in Medellin, I was checked-in as far as Airbnb was concerned and my 24 hours were already up. When I did find a bunch of issues upon arrival, I messaged the host, but there was another problem with that…

Keep your Airbnb host on the app

For both disaster places I visited (briefly) in Medellin, they were apartments being managed for a host that lived outside of the country. The hosts had somebody managing the apartment locally, a “co-host”. Because the co-hosts weren’t on the app, we had to communicate through Whatsapp. But that meant when I messaged the co-host about the issues at the first place, there was no record in the Airbnb app. 

With the second place, when issues came up, I knew to keep things in the app, so I moved the discussion back there from Whatsapp.

Airbnb support can see the discussion and they’ll be able to see the time you brought up the problems. That could affect how much of a refund you’ll be able to get. For the first place I stayed at, I ended up having to pay for a week even though I’d already moved out. I’d already been talking with the co-host about the issues for two days before I got Airbnb involved. Had I brought up the issues on the app, Airbnb would’ve gotten involved sooner.

In a black and white tiled shower, there is just a curved pipe with no showerhead
This Airbnb had no soap. When I returned with soap to have a shower, I then realized it had no showerhead. I thought the previous tenant had stolen it. But when I mentioned it to the host, he reassured me he knew there was no showerhead. I'd be happy using a bucket to shower, but this place was definitely charging showerhead prices.

Document everything wrong with your Airbnb

Some of the photos might be too gross to share on your travel blog. I’m only sharing the sorta funny ones here, not the nasty ones. But definitely send all of the nasty photos to Airbnb support. They need to see evidence that the place is not as advertised. At least you might be able to get that cleaning fee refunded.

The first place greeted me with broken flooring, lightbulbs out, dirty dishes, broken cutlery, dirty everything else, no toilet paper, a dead plant sitting on the desk where the internet router was supposed to be, a bedroom door that couldn’t close, and an exterior door that couldn’t lock (which, besides the security issues, were problems because there was a major street outside, so no way to block out the noise). But the real kicker was the internet not being as fast as promised. I understand why that plant wanted out of there.

How do you find a new place if your Airbnb is bad?

When I discovered that the internet wouldn’t cut it at the first place I went to, I quickly booked a hotel so I could keep meeting my clients and I wouldn’t need to cancel anything. I can handle a lot of inconvenience, but supporting my clients and community is most important to me when booking a place. So that also helped me see when it was time to leave and it helped me choose a new place. While I was at the hotel, I negotiated with the host and Airbnb.

I strongly recommend that travelers and especially digital nomads identify a core value that helps you make decisions on where to go when you encounter challenges or uncertainty. 

The reality is, if you need to find a new Airbnb or hotel or long-term rental for tonight, your options will be limited. So know what’s most important to you and be open to getting flexible with your plans. 

Now for the hosts reading this, next up are some tips you can use to not lose a guest when they open the door…

Whatsapp message that says: "There are no showerheads" and then "Yes, Mark, I'm afraid that's the situation..."
Apparently, the showerheads at this Airbnb had not actually been stolen.

Tips for Airbnb hosts to not have a guest cancel on arrival

Don’t catfish. Airbnb is like a dating app. I’m going to sleep with your accommodation for two months! I do remember what was in the photos and what you wrote in the description. 

If you have somebody managing your place, make sure they’re not ripping you off. In both Airbnbs I’ve left, the place was definitely not cleaned before I arrived. Both times, the hosts (not the co-hosts/managers) had been the ones that told me the additional cost to have cleaning done. It was expensive. Those hosts were probably sending a lot of money to get the place cleaned. I don’t know if that money was going to the cleaner.

Take ownership for what’s gone wrong. Another surprising quirk with both places I’ve left, was that when I brought up basic amenities missing—like no toilet paper, no soap, dead plants, lightbulbs out—they both blamed the previous guests. 

Tell the Airbnb guest if there are any issues before arrival, or cancel if you know you can’t provide a quality stay. I was once on my way to Edinburgh and the host had an issue with their plumbing. They cancelled the reservation because they couldn’t provide hot water and would have repair work happening in the bathroom. It’s not great for the host to lose the money for the stay or for the guest to find a new place the night before arrival BUT it’s the better option for both, including for the host. Why? Because if the guest stays just one night and cancels the rest of the stay, they’ll be able to leave a review. The Airbnb in Medellin with the pipe shower was having broader water issues and they just assumed I’d be ok with renovation work happening in the bathroom while I was staying there. That wouldn’t work for me because of the work I do. We could’ve discussed that before I arrived.

Always fold the blood stained towels so the stains face away from the guest. The place with no showerhead had no towels in the bathroom, but a bunch in a closet, with what looked like blood stains clearly visible. Posh hotels know to fold the blood stains around to the back. Before your guest arrives, just take a walk through your place and think about what your guest will do in the Airbnb and what they’ll see. What would you think if you were going to live there?

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